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Jaspal Rana ready for the hunt

By Our Special Correspondent

Indian shooter Jaspal Rana and his sister Sushma Rana after a practice session.

ISLAMABAD, MARCH 29. He is the torch-bearer of the Indian team, both physically and figuratively. Be it leading the contingent proudly with the flag held high, or shooting gold medals with ease, pistol prodigy Jaspal Rana is a champion to the core.

Jaspal had won eight gold medals each in the last two editions of the SAF Games in Chennai (1995) and Kathmandu (1999), in guiding India to a rich harvest of medals. Though he had been off target for some time in recent weeks, as there was some talk of him getting a ticket to contest the election from Uttaranchal, Jaspal will be hard to beat in this edition as well.

He may have won medals by the dozen in other competitions like the Commonwealth Games, Commonwealth championship, Asian Games and the Asian championship, not to forget the World championship in Milan in 1994 when he won a junior gold with a World record, but Jaspal promised that he would treat every competition with sincerity, as he practised at the nice-setting of the Islamabad Sports Complex here on Monday.

"For me, no competition is big or small. I am out of practice, but I will do my best'', said Jaspal, even as he mingled pleasantly with team-mates and the counterparts from Pakistan and other countries.

Actually, the Pakistan team of Irshad Ali, Zahid Ali and Kashif Riaz had won a bronze in centre-fire pistol, Jaspal's pet event, in the last Asian championship when India went out of the medal bracket because of a poor score by Naresh Kumar.

"We practised in Karachi and are in good touch. We feel that we will fight India on even terms'', said Zahid Ali.

Rare occasion

Of course, it will not be easy for Pakistan to match the Indian team, though it has two coaches from Ukraine training it. Especially so, as Naresh has been replaced by Ashok Pandit's son, Ronak Pandit, who had won eight medals including seven gold in the junior section of the last Asian championship in Kuala Lumpur. It would be a rare occasion in Indian sport when father and son would be representing the country in the same event.

"I have been shooting better than my dad in the last few times. It will be great to beat him. But, if I shoot a good score like 580, I will not mind losing '', said the young Ronak, who will also be competing in four events.

The rest of the Indian shooters and those from the other countries practised at the compact venue, which looks world-class but does not have many targets. In fact, three rapid-fire shooters were banging into the same five targets during practice.

The Indian shooters and the Chef de Mission, Mr. Baljit Singh Sethi, were all praise for the range. The man who designed it and executed the construction in a record 10 months, Mr. Parvez Abbasi of the National Rifle Association of Pakistan, was understandably proud as he walked around the venue receiving accolades.

"I have records in my name, but the standards have gone up in the last five years. Definitely most of the records would be broken this time, by us only'', said Kuheli Gangulee, who would be competing in her fifth SAF Games, like another seasoned rifle-shooter T.C. Palangappa.

Samaresh Jung, one of the heroes of the Commonwealth Games, but unlucky to miss out on the Olympic quota, was equally optimistic of a rich fare from the Indian camp. Jaspal's sister Sushma Rana, who shot a brilliant 582, a National record in women's sport pistol in the Asian championship, was equally at home during her training stint.

The Bangladesh shooting team has been here from March 23, and it has the young Asif Hussain Khan, who had beaten Abhinav Bindra to the gold in the last Commonwealth Games. Yet, it will be difficult to question the supremacy of Jaspal Rana and company in this edition.

After all, India was second behind China from among 33 countries in the Asian championship with 18 medals, including 10 gold.

Despite all of its eight Olympic qualified shooters, Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat, Abhinav Bindra, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Mansher Singh, Manavjit Singh Sandhu, Suma Shirur, Deepali Deshpande and Gagan Narang not being present here, India will be the favourite to sweep the medals.

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